A Conversation With Alec Sharp

The other day I had a chance to catch up with Alec Sharp as he was visiting Wellington. Alec was here teaching a course on advanced business process modelling for Software Education, and we managed to catch up. I know Alec through twitter and we have had a number of conversations, debates and arguments virtually, so it was great to finally talk to him in person over a beer at the Little Beer Quarter in Wellington. We had a far-ranging discussion of matters as diverse as beer, history, philosophy, process and data modelling, software development and pacific islands.

We talked about the people who we knew in common. Alec has met a wide number of the people that I have only interacted with virtually.  We talked about Nigel Green, who we both admire; Chris Potts, whose ideas we both find interesting; Karen Lopez, another modelling guru; Tom Graves – my comment is “I like the questions Tom asks, but I don’t often like his answers”; Richard Veryard, someone else we both find thought-provoking; and, Martin Howitt, the only one who I’ve met and Alec hasn’t.

We discovered that we are both “pragmatic theoretical anarchists” – a label a colleague has applied to me – because we both use theoretical frameworks with gay abandon, but only when they are practically useful, and not in a dogmatic fashion.

We discussed Alec’s idea that there is a crisis in business analysis. This is an idea I wholeheartedly agree with. We see that the quality of business analysis has decreased drastically over the last few years. In fact Alec used the same phrase I am fond of using (and I’ve never heard it from anyone else) – “many BAs these days are just stenographers”. There is rarely any “analysis”, and not a lot of “business” either.

Alec asked “What is the point of TOGAF?” To which I had to reply “not a lot” (I am TOGAF certified).

We talked about modelling. Alec mentioned a quote by George Box “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” – I couldn’t agree more (perhaps you can see the connection with the comment about pragmatic theoretical anarchists above). My view on models (which i should expand on some day) is that all models are abstractions from specific features of reality to focus on what is important to you. The features you abstract from depends on the purpose of your model.

We talked about process modelling and how useful it is in IT. Alec has written a great book on the subject – Workflow Modeling – and I am using his framework to model processes at the Department of Internal Affairs here in NZ where I work. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone looking at business process modelling.

All in all I had a very enjoyable time, learnt a lot and am looking forward to the next conversation with Alec.


One Comment to “A Conversation With Alec Sharp”

  1. Sounds very much like a similar discussion I had with Alec in London 18 months+ ago (how time flies!). Agree with the crisis in Business Analysis ( more Order-Taker than Analyst – the views I expressed in LiT haven’t changed!). Also strongly agree about TOGAF and also proud to say I’m not “Certified”. I’m encouraged, however, by the Business Process movement that Alec is leading – a bend of great Patterns and Pragmatics. I’m finding, time-and-again, that well-planned and well-run BP workshops are often the most fruitful ‘shop window’ for Enterprise Architecture.

    Thanks for the nice words.


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